Question: I am having surgery and will be out of work for a few days. When I return, I am required to undergo a fitness for duty exam, which will uncover my use of Suboxone as prescribed. I was told that I would be fired for using Suboxone. I can’t stop using Suboxone and put my recovery at risk. Since going in to recovery in 2003, I’ve never had an issue at work. Can I be fired for using Suboxone?
Answer: Its complicated. The caller is a person with a disability because they have a history of addiction and therefore is protected under the ADA. Suboxone is a legally prescribed medication to help the caller manage their disability just like insulin.
A person can only be required to undergo a medical exam that could uncover a disability at a couple of points in the employment process, otherwise it’s not allowed. First, a medical exam can be required after a person is hired but before starting the job, if a medical exam is required of everyone in a similar position. The only other time a medical exam can be performed once an employee starts a job is if the employer can show the medical exam is job related and consistent with “business necessity.”
Usually, an employee can’t be fired for using a medication according to the perscription to mange their disability, which includes the use of a MAT. However, an employer may be able to fire a person on a MAT or taking another perscription medication that could impair judgement, if the employee works in a safety sensitive or high risk position. This question often comes up for drivers who need a Commercial Driver License.
If you are interested in finding out more about the legal rights of people in recovery, check out our ADA 29 Anniversary Discussion Panel:The Forefront of Disability Rights for Addiction and Recovery